Another balancing act for Section V high school sports – Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
When Gillian Flint and her teammates won the 2015 Section V Class C2 girls championship, it was a remarkable day for the Caledonia-Mumford high school basketball program — girls and boys.
Hours earlier, the Caledonia-Mumford varsity boys claimed a Section V title.
Each member of the championship teams was presented with the traditional Section V shield, knit lanyards, a certificate, and t-shirt, and Flint couldn’t have been more pleased. She had been there before but the feeling of accomplishment never gets old.
“It’s a pretty big deal, and I’ve won four of (those championships), two in softball and two in basketball,” Flint said. “It’s nice.”
What was even more nice was that Flint and her Red Raiders teammates were able to cheer on the boys since that event was scheduled before the girls championship.
What wasn’t lost on Flint was the disparity between the two events, starting with the venue and moving down to the keepsakes and other gifts. The Caledonia-Mumford boys team played in the Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial, whereas the girls played at Rush-Henrietta High School. In addition to the items the girls received, the boys also received an invitation to a banquet among other perks.
“I know they get more than we do (in basketball),” said Flint. “They get a better location than us and it seems like a better experience.”
Section V officials, who sanction high school sports in the greater Rochester region, also became aware of the perception such disparity creates and began to examine postseason tournaments and championships about two years ago, including gifts and rewards given to student-athletes participating in these events.
This school year, Section V put a policy in place that states that sports with girls and boys equivalents — soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, cross country, skiing, bowling and basketball, for example — are supposed to have similar, if not equal, awards and experiences.
In the time since the passing of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, female athletes have grown up benefiting from gender equity opportunities guaranteed under the law. So how could something like this exist in 2017? Simple: Sponsorship dollars. The Section V boys basketball tournament acquired financial backers.
The differences in the postgame award celebrations always stood out to Clyde-Savannah boys basketball coach Tim Jackson, who watched two daughters and his son win Section V championships at Rush-Henrietta and Bishop Kearney.
“I always thought it’s unequal,” Jackson said. “I understand it’s a money thing, but I think that the girls should have got what the boys got.
“When it comes to girls in general, it’s almost like society, it’s not equal across the board. I get it that it’s a money thing, but they are playing the same game.’’
Section V wants to ensure that all sports championships offer the same experience — and perks — by implementing the new policy. However, complicating the initiative is the different levels of sponsorship in Section V sports. For example, a business that likes basketball and might have a connection to boys basketball offers ‘X’ amount of dollars to sponsor the boys basketball tournament.
Boys basketball has been around for a lot longer than girls basketball, with the former’s sectional tournament dating back to 1921.
“(Section V) Girls Basketball began in 1973,” said state and Section V girls basketball coordinator Tim Lincoln. “Think about the people (who support the boys) and where they are in their lives, and how they can help sponsor boys basketball.
“Those people are at that point in their lives, they have that residual income. Where in girls basketball, those people don’t exist yet. There are some, but they are few and far between. We are about 10 years from that.’’
Section V has a long-term goal to move more sponsorships from specific sports to all Section V sports, walking a tightrope of not wanting to turn away current and potential supporters. Their original proposal, for example, was a uniform policy for all championships — the same package of awards in every sport. However, some sponsors specifically offer college scholarships in certain sports, and there was some trepidation that these opportunities would go away.
“Change is hard,” Geneseo Central School District superintendent Timothy Hayes said. “I think people understood what needed to be done. The hard part came with talking about sponsorship; there was a lot of talk about people not wanting to water down what some sports are doing.’’
The sanctioning body, instead, decided to have coordinators of similar sports work together to create similar postseason tournaments. So, Section V boys basketball coordinator Jack Purificato and Lincoln sat down and shared each of their plans for the 2016-17 season with former Section V Executive Director Ed Stores and other officials. Similar perks and events were kept on both coordinators’ lists and basically, approved. If one sport could not match what the other planned, the item was dropped.
One result of the discussion between the coordinators is work toward girls basketball adding a banquet or brunch before this season’s tournament championships, similar to the event held for Section V boys basketball. Both genders have seeding luncheons in which several players and a coach are invited to participate.
“Has it gone perfectly? I would be lying if I said yes,” said new Section V Executive Director Kathy Hoyt. “But we’re moving to get it closer. For some of them it’s a natural progression for their sports. Some of the sports, it’s a drastic change.”
Section V presents each championship team with the popular trophy the players have begun to refer to as “the brick” or “the block.” Then there are those individual awards such as the patches and T-shirts. Now, even runners-up in the section get a medal, instead of the certificates passed out in the past. Section V will pay for all of those awards.
“In some ways with this controversy we are getting more,” Section V indoor track coordinator and Penfield coach Dave Hennessey said. “Now there are medals for the first- and second-place teams.’’
Additional awards can still be passed out in each sport, but Section V has asked coordinators and committees that if boys soccer, for example, provides T-shirts to the sectional runner-up, that the girls soccer sectional runner-up receives the same. If a sport such as boys lacrosse has a banquet at the end of its season, then Section V expects a similar event in girls lacrosse.
And that’s where the sponsorships come in, and also where debate has ensued.
Greece Athena baseball coach and Section V coordinator Jason Bunting wondered how the new approach will motivate other sports coordinators to promote and improve their sports.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the coordinators for the sports, for doing things for their sport, are being penalized because everybody else isn’t doing it,’’ Bunting said. “Why is boys soccer being compared to girls soccer?
“If a coordinator wants to promote a sport, you are telling me they can’t because the other sport doesn’t? It’s kind of a weird thing to do. It’s taken Title IX and abused it. To me this is not a boys versus girls issue. If softball does something and baseball does not, I’m not going to complain about it.’’
Purificato shared some of the same concerns. Section V’s boys basketball coordinator said that a couple of sponsored items that the committee planned to give out after this year’s tournaments were dropped, but some of his initial concerns about the sanctioning body’s policy have been reduced.
“I didn’t want to lose sponsorships,’’ Purificato said. “The best thing of the whole thing is that Ed Stores came in and said we want to raise the levels up, not bring anyone down, which I believe is a great approach to this.”
Lincoln agreed, and also said that the ultimate goal is to build Section V girls basketball to the level of Section V boys basketball.
“The way I feel and the girls basketball committee agrees, we don’t think we should benefit from the hard work of others,” Lincoln said. “We need to do a better job of going out and soliciting sponsors.”
There are some challenges that Lincoln acknowledged, including that high school boys basketball has higher attendance figures and a larger pool of potential sponsors because of its longer history in this region. One sponsor has ties to Section V boys basketball which go back more than 50 years, according to Purificato. It is sponsorship that makes tournament games at Blue Cross Arena possible.
“If we don’t pay the bills I can’t justify playing there,” Purificato said.
Actually, this year only one championship will be played at Blue Cross Arena — the boys Class AA championship — but that had to do with a scheduling conflict and not with any decisions to make the boys and girls tournament equitable.
As for the hunt for sponsorships to bring the girls events to the level of the boys, there is a challenge, according to Lincoln: At least 18 members sit on the more entrenched Section V boys basketball committee, compared to 10 on the girls basketball committee.
“I have one retired person on the (girls) committee,” Lincoln said. “Everyone else is working full-time jobs. (Retired boys committee members) have more time to give to the sport. If you take out the sponsorships, what the boys and girls do are really the same. Besides playing in the Blue Cross Arena, what is different?’’
Lincoln said that expense is the largest factor about why girls basketball sectional tournament games have not returned to Blue Cross Arena.
“That’s No. 1,” Lincoln said. “No. 2 is, where are you going to hold those championships when the boys are in there? I’m going to lose money going into the War Memorial. The coaches I’m talking to, who remember coaching games in the War Memorial, say that it is nice down there, but the environment is better for the kids (less cavernous) at Rush-Henrietta.
“Let’s not forget what it’s all about, the kids.’’
Hayes, a member of the Section V executive committee, said the sanctioning body’s policy is off to a successful start.
“The fall season, our like-sports really came a long way,” Hayes said. “There is still evening out to do, but the winter sports have been really pro-active about meeting and making sure that awards and experiences are similar, are alike, as the kids go through our tournaments and championships.”
Hayes said the federal law Title IX can be used as a guide by Section V and its sports coordinators.
“We’re taking our lead from the state,” Hayes said. “(The New York State Public High School Athletic Association) has worked hard over the past several years to make sure that no matter what sport, the awards, and again the experience, are the same; a high-level classy, event.
“We want to convey that through all of the sports.”
And such a change in approach will help area high school sports, Hayes said.
“We need to put a product out there that represents who we are,” Hayes said. “We can’t just do things because of a sponsor, we do it because it’s the right thing to do for the kids. I think our sponsors are fully on board.”
Purificato said it’s something that can’t be predicted but the goal is worthy of pursuit.
“Some sponsors, I think, will not support a partner sport (or all Section V sports), but you may get new people who might,’’ he said.
And Hayes said the marketing of Section V and not specific sports will help the section financially in the long term.
“I think eventually we’d like to have equity,” said Hoyt, the Section V executive director. “That’s a big change, and it’s going to take a little more time because of the disparity that exits.
“It will come with time.”